Tag Archives: meditating

When you can’t meditate

There’s a vile notion out there that goes ‘people who can’t meditate for half an hour every day need to meditate for an hour’. The phrasings vary, but the gist tends to be about the same. It assumes everyone should meditate, and that everyone can.

Pain, exhaustion and massive hormonal events are things I’ve been noticing recently make it impossible to meditate. I can’t do anything body centred if I hurt, it just makes the pain more apparent. While I try to manage my energy so that I have something to spare, I don’t always get a vote where that’s concerned. If I’m exhausted, trying to herd my weary mind in any direction is just a slog and I derive little or no benefit from it.

I say this as someone who has been meditating fairly regularly for more than twenty years. I say this as someone who thinks meditation is a good idea with a lot of benefits. And I also say that sometimes meditation is a bloody useless idea, counter-productive and not worth what it will cost you.

Sometimes, it’s better just to rest, or sleep.

Sometimes it’s better just to contemplate in an unfocused way and let your mind do what it will. Look at the sky, or an oracle card, or a stone or a twig and just be with it and don’t try to structure anything too much.

It’s easy to sell the idea that discipline is good. Meditation is disciplined, so doing it is good. Doing the good thing makes you a better person. Failing to do the good thing makes you a less-good person. It’s all very judgemental. None of this is actually going to grow you as a spiritual being. On the other hand, doing what you can do when you can do it is a much better way of travelling your spiritual path.

There’s not a lot of compassion inherent in telling people what they should be doing with no reference to what’s feasible for them.

If you don’t have time, or scope to meditate for half an hour every day, meditate for the amount of time that works for you, as often as that makes sense.


Meditation and pain

Pain is no aid to concentration. For the person in pain, being in the body is often the last thing you want. However, many meditation techniques start by focusing a person on their body – on breathing especially, and deep breathing at that, and on awareness of physical presence. Some meditation methods are purely about being present to yourself. If you’re in a lot of pain, it’s not an appealing prospect.

It is possible to meditate while in pain, and to benefit from doing so, but many approaches won’t work at all.

For mild pain, and pain that comes from tension, it may be possible to get some relief using meditation practices that focus on relaxation. However, for many of us, this will make little positive difference and may just serve to unhappily increase personal awareness of pain.

Make sure that everything in your meditation environment supports and enables your comfort. Ignore any other advice you have to, to achieve this. Any restful position that improves your comfort, any mild activity you can meditate around is good. Don’t do anything that adds to your pain, no matter what anyone else has to say about its value. People who are not in pain can have some funny ideas about what’s going to be useful, I have found.

Pick meditations that don’t depend on you having good concentration. Guided meditation CDs may help, listening to meditation music, cloud watching, contemplating a physical object – things where you can drift away and drift back, but which do not focus you on your pain.

Alternatively, pick a scenario that you would find it good to be in, and contemplate it. A sunny beach, an isolation tank, a sauna, a woodland in spring – whatever makes you feel good and can be easily imagined. Flight is a favourite of mine when I want to be away from my body, as is visualising myself floating in warm water. If you drift, just re-start, as there’s no narrative and no goal, it doesn’t matter if you can’t hold the thought for very long.

Meditate only for as long as works for you. Some bodies stiffen and become more painful if kept still for too long, so especially ignore the old chestnut about how if twenty minutes seems a long time you should be doing it for an hour… A lot of mainstream meditation advice comes from people who are largely well and assumes the person on the receiving end is fine, too. You know your body and you know your limits and no one is entitled to demand that you hurt yourself for a spiritual practice.

When meditation is awkward

Meditation in all its various forms does not suit all people in all circumstances. This isn’t about being in situations that deny you the calm and time to meditate – which is an issue in itself – but about methods that really don’t deliver what’s needed.

Non-judgemental self reflection. Just sit with your thoughts and feelings, watch them arise, notice what they are and let them go. Sounds lovely. However, if what you are is in pain, this process strips away your mental defences and rapidly brings the pain to the fore. I know, because I’ve done it. Equally, if the thoughts that arise are anxious and you just sit with them in a non-judgemental way, what you can end up doing is giving those thoughts more space to develop. If you suffer from anxiety then it’s really important to challenge anxious thoughts as they arise. Letting them be is not a good move.

Some people don’t get on well with breathing exercises. For some, controlling the breath can add to panic, for others who are panicking, breath control can be a vital tool for keeping it under control. The only way to find out is to test it at a safe time and see what you get. If breath work doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t right for you.

I suspect for some people the problem with breath work is more to do with another person telling you what to do with your body. For anyone who has been physically abused, being told what to do can be triggering. For anyone with pain, or potential for pain, the allegedly ‘safe’ yoga moves can turn out to hurt. I’ve done this several times where I was told it would be safe and gentle, but it wasn’t, which in turn reduces my willingness to have someone else tell me what it’s ok for my body to do. If you’re taking physical instruction, you need to entirely trust the person you’re working with, and it needs to be ok to say no to them if something hurts.

Some meditations depend on sitting still. Some injuries and ailments of the body make sitting still for any length of time painful. Some positions favoured for meditating will hurt some people. If it hurts, it should be ok to stop, and the teacher or group that don’t support stopping when in pain are suspect. It usually means you’re dealing with inexperience, and some very narrow ideas about what is good and helpful. Anyone who thinks that what their body can tolerate is a reasonable measure of what anyone else can do, is simply not to be trusted.

Sometimes, meditation just opens the door to all the difficult stuff you’ve been trying to avoid or manage. If you don’t have the room to deal with things, meditations that take you into your own thoughts and feelings are to be avoided. Wait until you feel safe and ready.

Tiredness, illness and overload can make it really hard to concentrate. Visualisation and pathworking require concentration, but if you’re already mentally exhausted, this can just make you feel worse. The frustration of not being able to stick with the work just adds to the problem.

Any meditation method should leave you feeling better, not worse. It should be calming, not stressful, it should be inspiring, not despair inducing. If you’re getting results that aren’t good, it’s not a personal failure of any sort. What it means is that the methods you are using, and your current state, mental or physical, just don’t match up. A different method may yield better results. It’s worth having a range of meditative methods you can work with, so that if one doesn’t deliver, you can switch over to something that better suits your needs.

Forcing yourself to stick with something may sound like discipline and devotion, but that only makes sense of you think that it’s basically good to suffer. It’s very easy for people who are not suffering, and who have never suffered, to tell those who do that its good for them to keep doing the work. Whether it’s a good idea to keep pushing or to change tack, or to try again tomorrow, has to be the judgement of the individual, and should not be about trying to conform to someone else’s standards.

(You can find out about my book on meditation here.)

Meditation: Eyes Wide Open

For many years I’ve defaulted to meditating with my eyes shut. It makes it easier to blot out the world and disappear inside my head, onto other planes of knowing and being, exploring altered consciousness etc. etc. etc.

The trouble is, I’m an author and an overthinker. Making things up is what I do as part of my day job. I think about everything a lot, I tend to live inside my head most of the time if nothing coaxes me out. So if I meditate and disappear inside my head, I can have wonderful and inspiring experiences, but I’m reinforcing that whole life inside my head thing.

On my default setting, mostly in my head I can be really oblivious to my body – not noticing that my feet have gone numb, or that I’ve cut myself until it’s a problem, being obvious examples. I don’t really think this does me much good.

One of my projects at the moment is to be more present in my own skin and more able to live in the present in communion with other beings. Not in the sense of being only in the present, because that makes no sense to me, but bringing my messy and narrative self into the moment. Obviously, being an overthinker, I’ve given this a lot of thought.

In recent months I’ve done a lot of experimenting with how I meditate. If I sit with my eyes open, it keeps me anchored in place and time and helps me to be more aware of my bodily presence. It helps me make room for less thinking, and more noticing. I’m trying to make a point of noticing how my body feels, and how I’m feeling emotionally rather than letting my head run everything.

Sitting out has become a big thing for me. Going to a place I like, and sitting there, and seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling the place, and being present in it, and letting whatever comes of that, come to me.

Evening Meditation

I’ve never had a fixed daily practice. Things that I do shift, fluctuate and evolve over time. I try things, and if they don’t suit me, I let them go and move on. Not being much of a morning person, about the only spiritually relevant thing I can do of a morning is start slowly, marking the move from dreaming to wakefulness and letting my mind settle before the day starts. I find that leaping out of bed and rushing around suits neither my state of mind first thing, nor the direction I want my days to go in.

Meditation has been a part of my life for a good twenty years. How I do it, when and where and why has varied greatly over that time frame. Early on, pathworkings and visualisations dominated my approach. I have a vivid imagination and it’s easy for me to use that in escapist ways, which I gradually became uneasy about.

Like most people who meditate I’ve been exposed to the idea of being wholly present in the moment as the point of meditation. I’m no good at it, and it does not sit well with me emotionally. I cannot divorce myself from past and future. I’m too interested in knowing and understanding, and in gathering material to share as stories and poems. To be wholly present is to be cut off from all of these things. I recently ran into the idea of ‘abundant time’ which I like a lot more. It suggests being very present, whilst also keeping the context of your life and what you know as part of that mix. It feels more natural to me, and makes more sense to me. There are a great many approaches to meditation available, so finding things that make emotional sense, seems the obvious way to go. All else is dogma and submitting to someone else’s authority.

I’ve always loved bats (excuse the huge jump in this line of though). One of the things about pipistrelle bats is that left in peace, they roost in the same place, and hunt in the same place every night. They come out at about the same time in relation to the sunset, not the clock. Seeing the bats requires being alert to when the day is ending, which I like.

I know where my nearest bats are, and I’ve taken to going out in the evenings to stand and watch them. I’ve started to notice things that impact on the life of bats, and have become more alert to the early evening moths. Bats don’t emerge in the dark, but after the sunset, so there’s still a lot of light to see what they’re doing. I turn up to the bats very deliberately. Not to worship them, nor to worship some bat-related sense of deity through them. Not to seek signs or messages in what they do. Simply because they are there, and I like seeing them. I like the addition of their presence to the day. Standing still and largely quiet to watch their amazing flights as they hunt, is inherently soothing and takes me out of myself. The light fades, and I go home calmer.

While primarily it’s a simple kind of meditation for relaxation, I know I am also learning things about twilight, and the sunset sky, the settling of day-flying birds, and the less predictable habits of the owls. That I can stand still and quiet for half an hour or so with no difficulty comes from the meditation I’ve already done. That I have any interest in doing this at all comes very much from my Druidry.

10 things meditation can do for you

It’s normal to see meditation described as a calming, soothing activity to reduce stress and anxiety. While it certainly can and does deliver these things, there’s so much more that is available.

1) Increased self awareness. If you regularly pay attention to your breathing, your thoughts and the general state of your body then your awareness the rest of the time will also increase. This can help you change your lifestyle to better match your needs.

2) Self control. If you learn how to drop into calmer states, how to calm yourself and direct your thoughts in very specific ways, this will be more available to you when not meditating as well.

3) Visualisation and pathworking meditations stretch and develop the imagination so that your mind becomes more flexible and creative at all times.

4) Consciousness shifts. Meditation is not just about being calm, it’s about deliberately being able to change the way in which your mind is working. Once you can change the way in which you are thinking and experiencing, you open up all kinds of other possibilities.

5) Self discovery. Find your own still, quiet voice, the voice of your insight and wisdom, which is very probably waiting for you on the other side of all the busyness, anxiety and routine mental clutter. This knowledge changes things.

6) Once you can slow down and shift your mental states, whole other perspectives on your life and its issues will emerge, allowing you to think and act differently.

7) Spiritual depth. Turn up to any kind of spiritual activity with a head full of everyday clutter and fretting, and you will have a fairly limited experience. Know how to focus your mind and hear your own voice and you become much more open to spiritual experiences. It can also impact on what you do in those routine situations too, once you are more relaxed and open, all options shift.

8) By changing the ways in which you think for a while, you open the way to other things getting in. You have room for new ways of thinking and for flows of new ideas and inspiration. You make room for creative thoughts that have the potential to inform and enrich any aspect of your life.

9) Spiritual experience. Meditation paves the way to trance. Pathworking and visualisation enable journeying and more shamanic modes of working. As you go further into these practices you open the way for more spiritual experiences.

10) You can’t do all of these things and remain unchanged. The more in control of your mind you are, the more open you are to ideas and experiences, the more likely you are to discover your authentic self and figure out how to live in accordance with your own nature and the callings of your own soul.


If you want more about my takes on meditation, I have written a book… Paperback AMAZON US AMAZON UK eBook  AMAZON US AMAZON UK

The crappy meditator

Meditation has been a part of my path for a long time. I’m supposed to be good at it – I’ve run workshops and groups, I even went so far as to write a book, and recently I’ve been involved in the Contemplative Druidry project. The truth is that in recent months, I’ve been bloody useless when it comes to meditation. I’ve not made regular time for it, and when I do, mostly what happens is that either I obsess over things I should be doing, or I stare vacantly into space.

Meditation is not a goal in its own right. It is a tool to use. The important thing is not the sitting around looking all spiritual and Druidic, the important thing is what you can do with the experience. Sometimes, it isn’t the right tool for the job. There are things you cannot fix with meditating, and things better tackled by other means. For me at the moment, walking and rest are more productive in terms of fixing my life and my inner state, than meditation is. As a result, I’m mostly not meditating, and I’m also not beating myself up for this. There is more to life than contemplation.

I tend to seize up if I sit still for long. Thus any meditation requiring me not to move for more than about five minutes is out, and any space where I can’t seek relief in stretching and careful fidgeting is also out. I can sit with the Contemplative group because no one minds if I need to wriggle now and then.

I have very little focus. This is a symptom of wider issues, not a cause. I will not heal my lack of focus by trying to force my mind to focus. I need to work through what’s going on, and I need the space in which to flail about randomly. Right now, I cannot afford mental discipline, I need the benefits of unravelling. I also need my autonomy and the right to self determine, so am likely to give short shrift to anyone who thinks they know better than me what I should be doing right now.

I can’t afford to be working with high levels of awareness. My body hurts, and I need to ration my consciousness of that or I just end up crying a lot. I can’t process all the things that are issues in one go, I need to deal with them gently, and this means I need to be cautious about entering contemplative states in the first place. Overwhelming myself isn’t helpful.

I’m not doing any of the more creative meditation work either – partly because I don’t have the concentration, partly because emotional unwellness and this kind of work do not go well together. Meditation isn’t perfectly safe, and if you don’t feel safe about doing it, that’s a very clear sign to stay away.

The spiritual life is part of life. That means if life gives you things you can’t work through meditatively, there is no failure in going another way. If too much awareness is unbearable, it is ok to move gently. If you have no concentration, beating yourself up with an aim to achieving focus is not a good plan. Meditating is not the be all and end all, there are times for all things, and times not to step up.

The productive slacker

It can be tempting to see hard work as the answer. The more pressure we’re subject to, the more difficult it gets to stop, and this can lead to working flat out all the hours there are, too tired to do any of it well or efficiently, and never questioning what any of it is for.

In the last eight months or so, contemplative Druidry has become a really important part of my life. I’m involved with a group that meets regularly to meditate, reflect and share. The first few afternoons we did this, I felt really guilty about stopping, and the first whole day we did, I struggled to justify. There was work to be done elsewhere. So much else I should be doing. Stopping felt indulgent and unjustifiable. Just sitting there and contemplating would not solve any problems.

I learned, despite my own resistance, that I really needed this time. It allows me to unravel my thoughts, getting beyond surface concerns and immediate issues, and into the bigger life stuff. Taking an hour to just let things run through my head gives me perspective and calm. I can see what matters and where I need to act. I become more able to let go of the things that I realise don’t matter.

Over the last few months, I’ve started responding to overload by stopping, walking away and getting my head straight. An extra hour in bed, an afternoon in the sun, a walk – anything that gives me the mental space to unravel a bit. Often this is really unstructured. I don’t try to meditate on anything, or to clear my thoughts, I just make space so that whatever I’ve got can percolate a bit. As a direct consequence, I spend a lot less time running for the sake of it, or doing things inefficiently. I am quick to ditch the pointless stuff, and much clearer about what I want and need. I make more productive choices, I am calmer and happier.

I’m running my brain fairly hard, in terms of the sheer quantity of information I’m handling most days. People, politics, what I’m absorbing, what I’m creating… and trying to process all of that consciously doesn’t work. If I give my mind time to wander about free range, I digest information far more effectively. Then later, if I want to do some more creative meditation, I have some headspace and it works a lot better.

I’ve noticed that it is the mind wandering periods that make me most creative. I don’t ferment inspiration or develop deeper ideas by consciously chipping away at them. I need time with unstructured, directionless thinking where I can meander about aimlessly, pondering with no great purpose. That’s when connections are suddenly made and the sparks of inspiration set fire to my mind. Trying to work hard all the time actually crushes that process.

So if you find me idling away a summer afternoon, daydreaming and doing nothing of note, I am slacking, because slacking is exceedingly important.

Imagination and Meditation

I’ve recently read a Glennie Kindred book in which she talks about using the imagination to take you into the otherworlds and to have spiritual experiences. This is certainly isn’t the only instance of this kind of thinking. I assume that if you don’t use your imagination much in the normal scheme of things, then imagining talking to a spirit or travelling to the otherworlds will seem incredible, powerful, exciting. Of course it will seem like magic.

My trouble with this is that to a large extent, I live by my imagination and have done for years. I’ve been making up not just stories, but complex settings for them since childhood. Give me a bit of thinking time, and I can imagine my way into all sorts of places, consider how to empathise with whoever’s there, work out how they got there and where they might be going, and how it all works. Give me a throwaway line and I’ll wrap a story around it. I can imagine anything. I assume so could anyone else if they were using their imaginations regularly. As far as I can tell, the imagination is a bit like a muscle in that if you never use it, it gets weak and flabby.

Does my imagination take me to otherworlds that are meaningful? I can imagine my way into the faerie court, and I can go there as Tam Lin, or Thomas the Rhymer, or I can go there as a faerie, or create a person. At a pinch I could go as me, but that’s not as interesting. I can imagine a Stone Age tribe in the Severn Vale and walk between the hills and the river with them. I can see why it might be tempting to cast these imaginings as religious experiences. However, I’m also perfectly capable of imagining walking into Gotham City as Batman. Do we want to call that a religious experience, too? It might be, for the serious fanboy, but it isn’t for me.

I suppose if you’d spent all of your life sat in a chair because you had no idea it was possible to move (or it wasn’t possible for you), and then you found out about walking, and that you could do it, , those first stumbling steps would seem like (or be) a miracle. If you walk all the time, walking is something you take for granted. If you only walk between the house and the car, then a walk into the woods is a walk into an unknown, magical otherworld. If you walk over hills and through woods most weeks, you will love and value the hills and woods, but they will not seem strange in the same way. They won’t strike you as belonging to a semi-supernatural realm.

The same is true of imaginations. If you are used to meditating, visualising, daydreaming, and pathworking, then you will have some idea of what your mind is capable of. Your ability to picture walking into Mordor will not leave you feeling like you have, in some literal sense, walked into Mordor.

There are other levels. There are times, rare and precious occasions, when working deeply with the imagination does seem to open a door into something numinous. If you are used to using your imagination and aren’t being seduced by the frankly quite unhealthy idea that your thinking something makes it real, there is more room for the more wondrous. If you know what your everyday, regular imagination looks like, how glorious and wide are its wings, how truly soaring its potential, then you can appreciate that for what it is. You won’t mistake your imaginary chats with imaginary Druids for anything other than your mind talking to itself. And if for a second, you really do glimpse a white hart come out of faerie, or a tree murmurs a few words to you, then there’s a better chance you will know how to make sense of this.

Steampunk Meditation

A few days ago, my Druid friend Shaun asked me if I could design a meditation based on Steampunk. My default reaction was ‘yes’, and then I sat down and thought about it. A meditation needs to do something. It needs to take you deeper in, or expand your mind in some way. There are meditations that are just about relaxing yourself, but that didn’t seem right for an application of Steampunk ideas. Steampunk is too dynamic for that.

Steampunk is also essentially a social and aesthetic movement. How to make that into a meaningful meditation without just playing with surfaces? I considered working round the four elements, but that seemed a bit of a cop-out, not least because I’ve put together a few element based meditations already (See Druidry and Meditation on the Books page http://www.druidlife.wordress.com/books). Really speaking, I’d just be wrapping relevant technology around existing ideas, and that felt like a cheat. I don’t just want to play with surfaces. The other thing is, steam technology burned a lot of coal, it wasn’t very green, which isn’t very Druidy, so the more I thought about it, the less this seemed like a good idea.

So where did that leave me? I confess that there was a brief crisis around just how much Steampunk Druidry you could actually do, and whether it was possible to have anything with more depth. I floated out the Secret Order of Steampunk Druids as much for fun as anything else. Can Steampunk Druidry be anything more than a bit of dressing up and having a giggle?

Here’s what I’ve come up with. It plays to one of the core Steampunk images, it deals in social connection, relationship and visualisation. I think it ticks all the necessary boxes.

Take some time to settle and slow your breath as you normally would when meditating. Then, picture yourself as a cog. Shiny or dull, large or small, well used or pristine… what kind of a cog are you? Every tooth around your cog is a point at which you connect with the world. Every time you turn, other things, other people turn their cogs in response. What causes you to turn? What are you turning? Picture yourself as a cog, be it a small one or a large one, and see how you fit in with all the other cogs, and try to visualise the sort of machine you belong to. Is it the sort of machine that goes round fixing broken things, or is yours a wrecking machine? Are you part of a really clever machine that makes amazing discoveries? Is your machine going somewhere, or just round in circles? Do you like how it looks? Is this a machine you are glad to be part of, or do you need to break out and roll off somewhere else? See where it takes you…